The U.S. government on Friday charged a Russian national with playing a key financial role in a Kremlin-backed plan to conduct "information warfare" against the United States, including to influence next month's congressional elections.
The complaint accuses Khusyaynova of helping to control the finances of a Russian effort to use fake social media postings to sow anger and division among American voters.
The charges announced on Friday centred on a conspiracy that included the creation of thousands of social media and email accounts that appeared to be run by U.S. persons as part of what the conspirators referred to as "information warfare against the United States".
The criminal complaint unsealed on Friday makes Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, 44, the first individual to be indicted for attempting to interfere in the 2018 USA elections, according to a government official with knowledge of the matter. Prosecutors say Khusyaynova ran an operation funded by a Russian oligarch whose aim was to "spread distrust towards candidates for US political office and the USA political system" by bombarding social media with divisive messages on issues from immigration to gun control to the National Football League anthem protests.
America's justice department disclosed the latest criminal complaint soon after U.S. intelligence agencies said they were concerned about efforts by Russia, Chinaand Iran to influence United States voters and policy.
The U.S.is concerned about the foreign campaigns "to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies", said the statement from national security officials. "These activities also may seek to influence voter perceptions and decision making in the 2018 and 2020 USA elections".
Friday's separate statement about foreign influence in US elections was issued just weeks before the November 6 elections by the Office of the Department of National Intelligence, the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security.
Project Lakhta allegedly spent millions of dollars on its influence campaign in the USA and elsewhere over the course of a few years. What remains to be seen is how and whether Mueller can connect President Trump or his campaign to those efforts. USA officials have warned repeatedly about foreign attempts to influence the 2018 Midterms.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said recently that Russia has no intention to interfere in the midterm elections in the US or meddle elsewhere. The Justice Department's recent report, though, noted that "public exposure and attribution of foreign influence operations can be an important means of countering the threat and rendering those operations less effective". Trump also signed an executive order last month authorizing additional sanctions against countries or people who interfere in USA elections, though some lawmakers say the measure does not go far enough.
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